[VIETNAM] Open Space #1: Cybersecurity Law
Vietnamese have found spaces for free expression tightened even further by the enactment of a draconian cybersecurity law at the start of this year. The law has given Vietnam government additional authority to surveil its own citizens, to censor contents on the internet, and to suspend online newspapers. Social media, which often became a platform for the youth to speak their point of view, is also targeted as the Communist Party regime continues to slow down access to Facebook and YouTube during protests. Moreover, the law purposefully defines online offenses vaguely to force self-censorship for the Vietnamese. The very same cybersecurity law also gives the government authority to compel social media companies to hand over their user data without democratic oversight and transparency.
As shown during the Vietnam open space – an online discussion event focused on internet freedom that was held by ASEAN Youth Forum on September 27, the draconian cybersecurity law has negatively affected freedom of expression for Vietnamese youth. The host was receiving more than 10 applications to join the open space but only three came up – one applicant sent an email questioning the protection of identity for participants because “human rights” as a topic of discussion was too sensitive. Moreover, participants chose to turn their video off during the event and used the chat feature on Zoom instead of speaking directly. Most of them admitted—in a survey done after the discussion—that they were not comfortable to share thoughts on the internet because the cybersecurity law does not clearly define the kind of online activities that is and is not allowed.
The survey also showed that most participants (75 percent) agreed that the cybersecurity law violates freedom of expression since the government can imprison activists for their online activities – even though one of them thought that the law is crucial to protect Vietnamese citizens against online criminalities and to prevent cyberbullying. However, all. They understood that freedom on the internet is as crucial as any other human rights principles. Open space helped the participants to comprehensively understand the cybersecurity law from a point of view that is different from the one offered by government-owned media channels.
Here are some highlights from the session
Generally, laws on cybersecurity are necessary to ensure the safety of online users. In fact, many countries have this type of law. However, the controversial point in Vietnam is the definition of “national security” which is defined vaguely in this law. People could be imprisoned for violating a law they do not understand. That is why it is controversial.
We all know that the internet is censored by the government, thus, it is difficult to express our thoughts online because we do not know whether someday the government would charge us with the crime “against the Party/state” or not.
I directly experienced surveillance by the government. I visited a website that I assume is not classified as a safe website for citizens. On the next day, the internet provider sent a notification to my family to clarify whether I accessed that website. Since that day, I feel that online information is filtered in Vietnam.
I think I have a problem with the censorship on the internet in Vietnam. As a student, censorship prevents me from accessing a variety of sources, which I need to read for my class. I do not intend to use those reading sources to criticize or to do anything harmful to the Party. I just want to read them to improve the quality of my essays.
I know a guy who used his computer skills to illicitly earn money on the internet. Now he got arrested and prosecuted. From this point of view, I think the cybersecurity law could play a positive role to protect our rights on the internet.
I was bullied on the internet when I was in high school. We had an argument and they started to bully me online. I was hurt by that and I had to deal with it alone because I assumed it was just a child problem.